Notebook: Kelechi Osemele Returns, Raiders Continue Preparation For Colts

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Linebacker/Defensive End James Cowser

Someone wise once said that it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

The Oakland Raiders defense admittedly didn't start the season firing on all cylinders, but as the season has worn on, and the players have become more comfortable with what they're being asked to do by Ken Norton, Jr., the results have come.

The Raiders are 11-3, and within striking distance of clinching their first division title since 2002, and the resurgence of the team's defense is a big reason why they've been able to find so much success in 2016.

Check this out; over the past eight games – a span in which the Raiders are 7-1 – the defense ranks seventh in the NFL, allowing an impressive 324.1 yards per game.

So what does Ken Norton, Jr. credit for the vast improvement in his group's play? It just starts with hard work.

"They practice well," said Norton. "The players really practice well…Guys wanting to win, really putting it together, and playing well as a team. I think that the execution part of it, the communication part of it, and guys really putting their will together, to really finish strong. It's really been impressive."

"I feel like the coaches have been really good about being honest about situational defense, and they really put an emphasis on knowing the situation, and taking care of what you have to take care of," added rookie linebacker/defensive end James Cowser. "We've been getting a little [better] on our assignments, been a little bit better on just being where we've had to be, and then we have some big time players who make big time plays."

Perhaps the two biggest of those "big-time players" are linebacker Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, who have been key to the defensive resurgence for the Silver and Black.

After a dominant outing against the San Diego Chargers Irvin was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week Wednesday morning, and with 11 sacks, Mack is squarely in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.

"If you look in the fourth quarter, Khalil and Bruce just come alive," Cowser said. "They're great throughout the game, but when it's big time, they step up in big ways, and that's what you need out of your stars."

And in the team's biggest moments, the Raiders stars have shone brightly, as the defense has been stout in the final frame, allowing just seven points in the fourth quarter of the past four games combined.

Earlier this week, Irvin said that he's likely playing the best football of his career, and is confident that he'll reach the 10-sack plateau for the first time in his career.

With two games left on the schedule, Irvin needs three sacks to hit his mark, and he'll most likely get his fair chances to get after the quarterback, particularly against a Colts offensive line that has surrendered 40 sacks thus far in 2016.

Kickoff at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. PT.

Injury Report:

Linebacker – Shilique Calhoun – Knee – Limited

Quarterback – Derek Carr – Right Finger – Full

Wide Receiver – Amari Cooper – Shoulder – Limited

Wide Receiver – Michael Crabtree – Finger – Limited

Safety – Karl Joseph – Toe – Did not participate

Defensive Tackle – Stacy McGee – Ankle – Did not participate

Guard/Tackle – Kelechi Osemele – Ankle – Limited

Linebacker – Perry Riley Jr. – Hamstring – Limited

Linebacker – Malcolm Smith – Hamstring – Limited

Notable:

-Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. was once again back on the practice field Thursday afternoon, but Head Coach Jack Del Rio was still unwilling to commit to the second-year edge rusher suiting up Saturday against the Colts.

"We'll work through that," Head Coach Del Rio. "We had a good week of practice. Obviously, you have to make a move to get him active before we can activate him and play him. I think he's had a good week."

-After missing Wednesday's practice session, Kelechi Osemele returned to practice Thursday, although Karl Joseph and Stacy McGee remained sidelined.

-Since the Raiders play Saturday, Thursday was in essence a Friday schedule for the Silver and Black. The team will technically have a walk thru tomorrow, but won't hit the field again until their clash against the Colts.

Quotable:

After signing with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent in May, before being waived and then ultimately rejoining the team in October, it's been an interesting year for James Cowser:

"It's been every emotion. It's been a whirlwind of all of it. It's just been super exciting. It's cool to be a part of a storied franchise doing big things."

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